Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia introduced a bill Thursday to permit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to alert taxpayers that they have been victims of identity theft.
The bill, the Social Security Identity Defense Act of 2014, addresses a cruel situation confronting people whose Social Security numbers are used by identity thieves. The IRS may discover the fraud when separate tax returns using the same Social Security number are filed, and the agency investigates to learn which taxpayer is legitimately entitled to use the number. But the IRS’ interpretation of privacy laws had led it to believe it cannot warn the defrauded taxpayer whose number has been stolen. This situation has caused years of trouble for at least one Wisconsin couple who have worked to draw media attention to the paradox of IRS’ interpretation and to the risk that interpretation poses to others similarly victimized by identity thieves.
Senators Johnson and Warner propose allowing the IRS to alert the victims of Social Security number theft rather than keeping them in the dark. The bill also permits the IRS to share its findings with law enforcement agencies able to track and catch identity thieves, and it ensures that safeguards against the misuse or release of that information are understood and followed by all agencies.
“It seems so simple that the federal government would tell a taxpayer when it learns she or he is the victim of a crime,” said Sen. Johnson. “The rules keeping the IRS from giving that warning were not helping anyone. I’m pleased to be able to clear that obstacle.”
“This bipartisan, commonsense legislation will help alert Virginians more quickly if they have been victims of identity theft,” said Sen. Warner. “It will also allow the IRS to share information so that law enforcement agencies can more effectively track and apprehend identity thieves. In our digital economy, it’s critical that personal data, including Social Security numbers, be better protected.”
Johnson also praised U.S. Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin, who has sponsored similar legislation and spent years drawing attention to the cause.